Labor has called on the Coalition to show leadership and stabilise the dairy sector as the Government’s Senator Susan McDonald this morning admitted that the dairy industry had fallen into ‘complete market failure’.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the admission on Radio National from the Senator from Queensland came as the Government stalled a Dairy Industry Code of Conduct, avoided a discussion of minimum farm-gate prices for milk, and as more dairy farmers leave the land.
“Senator McDonald told us something we already know – that the dairy market is failing our farmers,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “But her solution, that consumers insist that Coles and Woolworths charge them more for their milk, is a fantasy proposal. Is this Government no longer responsible for agricultural policy?”
He said faced with a costs-prices squeeze, dairy farmers were leaving the land in droves: Dairy Australia confirms that the latest dairy farm number is 5,213, down from 7,924 a decade ago. With input costs rising due to drought and farm-gate milk prices remaining stubbornly low, many dairy farmers are being forced from the land.
He said there were two things that a federal government could do: bring in an industry code that addresses the power imbalance between farmers, processors and retailers; and mandate a minimum farm-gate price for milk, implemented through an independent regulator.
“The Government accepted the ACCC’s recommendation for a code of conduct 19 months ago. Farmers are still waiting and Government MPs and Senators are still fighting over what it should look like.”
He said the Government will not even contemplate a minimum farm-gate milk price, even though the milk price determines viability for dairy farmers.
“Labor took a minimum farm-gate milk price policy to the May election, and we supported Pauline Hanson’s Bill for a minimum farm-gate price,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “We’re willing to work with the Government and minor parties to ensure the survival of the dairy sector, but the Government has to first commit itself to the dairy industry.”